A new use for drones: Eavesdropping

“In my field of Ecology and Wildlife Conservation, drones have emerged as a powerful new tool for research and monitoring,” wrote Environmental Studies Prof. Andy Wilson in a recent piece for Medium.

He’s been using drones to collect audio data, which aids in counting and monitoring bird populations. His innovations are attracting national media attention.

The Auk, a leading journal of the American Ornithological Association, describes the application of the aerial technology. In “The feasibility of counting songbirds using unmanned aerial vehicles,” coauthored by Wilson and two of his former students, alumni Janine Barr ’15 and Megan Zagorski ’16, the team recounts how drones can be used for good, more specifically how they can be used to collect critical data that’s physically challenging to gather.

People have more trouble muddling through terrain such as wetlands, and even in easier-to-reach places, there’s always the risk that researchers' presence will disturb the wildlife they’re trying to monitor. But Wilson said drones can reach those more remote places while also minimizing impact to wildlife, thereby reducing data collection bias.

Wilson hangs a microphone from his drone, which dangles on fishing line over 25 feet below. He is then able to eavesdrop on birdsong, using different audio cues to count birds of different species.

Read more about this groundbreaking research in:


Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.

Contact: Carina Sitkus, senior assistant director of communications, 717.337.6803

Images via Unsplash

Posted: Thu, 16 Mar 2017

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